25 Reasons Why Sunday School is Declining…(in some places), Part 1

It’s no secret that most of the churches in the Southern Baptist Convention are declining. So are the declineSunday Schools in those churches. I was recently invited to speak to a group of Christian educators in the Memphis area. The topic of discussion at our meeting was, “Why is Sunday School in decline?” In preparation for that meeting, I jotted down 25 reasons why I believe the Sunday Schools in many of our churches are declining. I have divided those 25 reasons into two blog posts. I’ll release part 2 tomorrow.

Here is the good news, though. Although Sunday Schools are in decline, many of the reasons for the decline are within our ability to fix! That’s actually terrific news. We do not have to sit idly by while our attendance drops 2-5% a year or more.

I challenge you to read through these reasons and decide which of them apply at your church. Then take action.

Reason 1: Churches are not starting new groups regularly

  • If we are not starting new groups (that typically attract 10 new members) then we are not covering the 20% churn in the average church (churn = the number of people who leave each year for one reason or another).
  • Groups tend to calcify after being together 24+ months, and they are difficult places for guests to find lasting relationships. Newer members, if placed in older groups, tend to “bounce” or “ricochet” off existing groups.

Reason 2: Churches are no longer training group leaders regularly

  • Georgia Baptist Convention surveyed 2500+ churches and discovered that…
    • Churches with monthly or quarterly training grew 13.4% over a 4 year period
    • Churches that had no training declined 2.1% over the same time period
    • Over 1000 of the 2500+ churches had no training at all

Reason 3: Groups are not working prospect lists

  • Healthy, growing groups need a pool of prospects in a ration of 1:1 (prospects:group members)
  • “If you starve anything long enough, it will die.” This is especially true of Sunday School or small groups that are designed to reach new people. If they do not have an adequate number of prospects, churn will ultimately eat away at their attendance numbers.

Reason 4: Teachers are not recruited to a leader covenant with the expectation of starting a new group

  • If you want group leaders to be proactive and help start new groups, they must agree to this up front at the time they are recruited.
  • Too many group leaders believe (mistakenly) that their group is “their” group. It is not. The group belongs to the Lord, and He has told us to reach new people by going and making disciples.

Reason 5: The demise of the M.E. role on our church staffs

  • Sunday School needs a champion in the church, and in the typical Southern Baptist Church, that has been the Minister of Education.
  • Churches are deleting this time-honored staff position held by people with advanced degrees in Christian education. Now, more lay leaders are being placed in the role instead of educated, trained education leaders.

Reason 6: Teachers are not delivering quality, engaging, and interactive Bible studies

  • Too many teachers are not trained in using the 8 learning approaches.
  • Lecture is the dominant form of teaching in our Sunday Schools, and Sunday School has a reputation for being boring.
  • We’ve settled for a transfer of information instead of the transformation of people

Reason 7: The pastor does not promote it

  • “If it’s important to the pastor, it becomes important to the congregation.” The pastor can be a great champion and cheerleader for the Sunday School, but too often he doesn’t emphasize it or participate in it. This isn’t the case everywhere, but it’s the case in enough places to be a concern.

Reason 8: The pastor doesn’t participate in it

  • Not every pastor can attend a Sunday School group because of the church’s schedule, but those who can often do not make it a priority. People notice.

Reason 9: There is no organized assimilation process and a strong push to have people in “step 2” groups

  • People will not initiate the assimilation process as a general rule.
  • On average, people are taking 18 months to join a church (see the book Membership Matters).
  • We must make certain that we are letting people know their options for group involvement, encouraging them to connect with people through Bible study groups.

Reason 10: The Sunday School for kids and students are not carried out with quality

  • If the kids aren’t happy, mom and dad aren’t happy. Many parents who visit a church ask one or more of their children, “So, did you have fun? Did you like it?” If the answer is, “no,” a church probably just lost the chance to reach that family.
  • If the Sunday School for younger people is not A+, families will not attend and guests will not come back. This relates to quality teaching and quality space. The space for children and students should be the best space in the church.

Reason 11: We’ve forgotten the true mission of Sunday School

  • Sunday School is a foundational strategy for making disciples. That’s the core mission: make disciples.
  • It is designed to have open groups.
  • It is designed to have an intentional mix of saved and lost persons.
  • It exists to make disciples, and that means it must be evangelistic. Many of the Bible study groups in our churches have not reached one person with the gospel this past year.

Reason 12: People are not inviting others to attend their group’s Bible study

  • The invitation of a friend is the #1 reason why people attend a Bible study.
  • If we are not regularly inviting people to come to our Bible study group, they won’t be there (everyone say, “well duh”, please!). People may not invite friends, families, and neighbors for a variety of reasons. Find out why your group members are not regularly inviting people. Is it that they just haven’t thought about it? Or is there a deeper reason like a lack of pride in what takes place in their group?

Tomorrow’s post will have 13 additional reasons why Sunday School is on the decline. Again, the great news is that most of the reasons above are within our control to fix. We do not have to settle for the downward decline!

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3 thoughts on “25 Reasons Why Sunday School is Declining…(in some places), Part 1

  1. Thank you Ken for the 25 reasons the SS is not growing. I look forward to reading the ones you did not include. I am presently working with 10 small churches and helping them grow through the SS. They all have SS but don’t know how to used it for growth.

    • Thanks, Joe! Hope this might be helpful as we help churches think about things they can be proactive about as they seek to grow

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